Europe

Narrow escape for Brussels after 'nail bomb misfires'

Belgian prosecutor says man shot dead after attempted bombing in central station had not been a 'terrorist' suspect.

Belgian police searched the suspect's house in Brussels' Molenbeek district [Reuters]

The man shot dead at Brussels Central Station on Tuesday, after an abortive detonation of a nail bomb in a bag, was a 36-year-old resident of the Molenbeek district who had not previously been considered a "terrorist" suspect, a Belgian prosecutor said.

Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday following the reopening of the station, Eric Van Der Sypt told reporters that the initials of the man, who had Moroccan nationality, were O.Z., and that his home had been searched.

On Tuesday night, Belgian soldiers shot and killed the suspect after he set off a small explosion at the central train station in the capital. The blast was believed to have been caused by the detonator of a larger device. 

There were no other casualties in the attempted attack.

Belgium's Prime Minister Charles Michel said that the shooting of the suspect "could have been potentially very dangerous".

He said there were more explosives that the suspect carried into the station than the small detonation that alerted the patrolling military to the man before they killed him.

Michel said more security measures would be put in place for large public events such as the Coldplay concert at the King Baudouin stadium later on Wednesday.

A policeman stands guard over a deserted street near Central Station [Francois Lenoir/Reuters]

Prosecutors said the suspect was carrying a backpack before he was shot by one of the routine military patrols active in Brussels since the attacks more than a year ago.

But the man was not wearing an explosive belt as was previously thought, Van Der Sypt said.

"We consider this a terrorist attack," Van Der Sypt said after the attack.

Police had cleared streets around Brussels' landmark Renaissance town square after the blast, which occurred around 8:30pm (18:30 GMT) as tourists and locals were enjoying a hot summer's night.

"There is a very heavily armed police and military presence," Al Jazeera's Neave Barker, reporting from near the Central Station on Tuesday following the attack, said.

"The whole area around here is very much on lockdown."

High alert

Barker said the incident brought memories of two attacks in March 2016 when suicide bombers struck the metro system and an airport in the city, killing 32 people and wounding hundreds more.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group claimed those attacks, which were carried out by the same cell behind the November 2016 Paris attacks that killed 130 people.

Soldiers have been stationed at railway stations, government buildings and European Union institutions in Brussels since the aftermath of the Paris attacks when a link to Belgium was first established.

"The Belgian capital has been on a heightened state of alert, meaning that there are now roughly about 10,000 heavily armed soldiers on the streets of Brussels to precisely make sure that a situation like this doesn't happen any time soon," Barker said.

Belgium's anti-terror laws raise concern

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies